Chris Marshall receives DOE Early Career Research award

August 4, 2023

Christopher Marshall, an assistant professor in the University of Rochester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, has been named a recipient of an Early Career Research award from the United States Department of Energy (DOE) to continue his work studying tiny subatomic particles called neutrinos. The award is designed to bolster the nation’s scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during the crucial early career years, when many scientists do their most formative work.

Marshall is among 93 scientists—including 12 from DOE’s national laboratories and 48 from US universities—to receive the award from DOE’s Office of Science this year. For university faculty members, the awards pay $175,000 a year for five years.

Neutrinos are often referred to as “ghost particles.” Although neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles in our universe, they are notoriously difficult to study because they don’t have an electrical charge and have nearly no mass. There are three different types—or “flavors”—of neutrinos, which exhibit a property called oscillation, where they can change from one type to another as they travel. 

Marshall works on two different experiments that measure neutrino oscillations: the Short-Baseline Neutrino (SBN) program, which has already started collecting data and is searching for a fourth type of neutrino, and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), which will start collecting data in 2028 and will search for a difference in neutrino and antineutrino oscillation that could explain why the universe is made of matter instead of antimatter.

“Both of these experiments have an important challenge in common, which is that we really don’t understand how neutrinos interact with the atomic nuclei that make up the detectors,” Marshall says. “Historically, each experiment has essentially come up with its own approach for how to parameterize and implement these critical uncertainties.”

Marshall aims to tackle this problem by developing a common solution shared between neutrino experiments and by building a framework for neutrino interaction uncertainties.

Marshall first came to the University of Rochester in 2010 as a graduate student, earning his PhD in 2016. He spent the next four years as a Chamberlain Fellow in the physics division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California before returning to Rochester as an assistant professor in 2020.

To be eligible for a DOE Early Career Research award, a researcher must be an untenured, tenure-track assistant or associate professor at a US academic institution or a full-time employee at a DOE national laboratory, who received a PhD within the past 12 years. Research topics are required to fall within one of the Department’s Office of Science’s eight major program offices: Accelerator R&D and Production, Advanced Scientific Computing Research, Basic Energy Sciences, Biological and Environmental Research, Fusion Energy Sciences, High Energy Physics, Isotope R&D and Production, and Nuclear Physics.

Awardees were selected from a large pool of university- and national laboratory-based applicants. Selection was based on peer review by outside scientific experts. The final details for each project award are subject to final grant and contract negotiations between DOE and the awardees.